Britannia’s Reliably Rebellious New Season

James Richardson, co-founder of Vertigo Films and executive producer on Britannia, talks to TV Drama about the Sky original series’ confident third season.

The third and most recent season of Britannia, a drama set in the first century that blends the historical with the mythological, is its most confident yet, according to James Richardson, co-founder of Vertigo Films and executive producer on the Sky original series. “We pushed into the areas that we really love about it: its humor, comedy, darkness, horror, irreverence, kind of rebellious spirit,” says Richardson. Season three tackles “something from a macro point of view, which is huge: the beginning of a new religion.”

In this new season, viewers are introduced to Hemple, the wife of David Morrissey’s Aulus, who is played by Sophie Okonedo. In addition to the power shift brought about by Hemple’s arrival on the scene, Britannia continues to follow Cait (Eleanor Worthington Cox) and her journey to find her true purpose in life. The character arcs play out against the backdrop of ongoing battles between the Celts, the Romans and the Druids—and the rise of the new religion.

“There is this epic and seismic paradigm shift in the religions,” says Richardson. “In terms of [Britannia’s] relevance today, it’s all about paradigm shifts, historical paradigm shifts. What’s happening when things start changing or moving on different axes? Of course, we’re seeing things now. Whether it’s what’s going on in Western politics or what’s going on in the battles between the empires, with the U.S. and China, or what’s going on with the battle between religions. They’re all the same battles that were going on at the turn of the first millennium.”

“This is the battle of stories,” he adds. “We see through history which stories win, whether it’s religions—if you’re religious and you believe in religions—or it’s governments of states or empires. We thought that’s a thrilling and exciting world to explore. Also, there are great characters. We can go really dark with some of our characters and be silly and funny with others.”

Richardson, who sees Britannia as a joyride of a series with a sense of fun driving its appeal, was keen to make an epic show with a sense of humor. Essential to creating the series’ unique tone have been writers Jez and Tom Butterworth, with actor Mackenzie Crook lending his writing and directing talents to the third season as well. The playful tone favored by the writers enables Britannia to deliver action-packed scenes filled with shocking twists and turns, as well as some silliness.

“We thought, rather than look at this world and be really serious about it, there were some really stupid and crazy people [in the past] like there are today,” says Richardson. “Let’s enjoy that. There’s no reason we need to be po-faced as soon as it’s set in the past. People actually did some crazy things and had fun in the past, as well as in the present.”

Also helpful creatively is a lack of source material to adhere to. “We don’t have any books to follow; we’ve got a blank page,” Richardson explains. “That’s really exciting. It means that we can just go with these great characters and come up with new ones and see where they go.”

The daring tone and storylines of Britannia fit well into the main aim of Vertigo Films, which is to be “reliably rebellious,” according to Richardson. “We try to make shows that are different. We’re not going to make the kind of shows that lots of other companies are going to make, and we’re going to do it really well and do them fantastically…. The reliability element of that is that at the same time we’re a production company that is itself reliable. If a broadcaster or a distributor gets a Vertigo show or film on their desk, they know what that show is, what kind of tone it’s going to have, and they know we’re going to deliver it.”

As for Britannia, Richardson says, “It’s been an amazing journey. It’s been great having Sky and all of our international partners behind the show and our fantastic cast and crew. I hope the fans of the show love [season three] as much as we do.”